What Is Vorschmack?

Rebecca Cartwright

Vorschmack is a mixed meat and fish dish particularly identified with Finland. Many similar dishes can be found in Eastern European and Russian Jewish cuisine. The ingredients for vorschmack are cooked into a mixture served as a kind of hash or pate. "Vorschmack" is a German word, but the dish was first brought to culinary attention when it was introduced into Finland in the early 1900s. It is often described as salty and savory with an element of sour in the complex flavor.

Many recipes for vorschmack include cognac.
Many recipes for vorschmack include cognac.

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who had served in the Russian Imperial military, brought a recipe for vorschmack with him when he returned to Finland from Russia after the 1917 Russian revolution. Mannerheim, one of the most prominent figures in Finnish history, may have first encountered the dish while in Warsaw, Poland or during his stay in Russia itself. Upon arrival in Finland he took the recipe to the chef at the Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki; vorschmack has been a signature dish at the hotel restaurant since that time.

Hot vorschmack is typically served with pickled beets.
Hot vorschmack is typically served with pickled beets.

Mannerheim's recipe used a mixture of lamb and beef. The meats, along with onions, are roasted until well done, then chopped and mixed with pickled herring, garlic and anchovies. Water is added to the mixture and it is slowly simmered until very soft and thoroughly mixed. After it is thoroughly moistened with gravy the dish is served hot.

There are many variations in vorschmack recipes. Some use only beef instead of a mix of meats. Many recipes call for wine or cognac. Tomato and vinegar are other ingredients used in some recipes. Another possible addition is sour apples.

Recipes for the dish typically do not include many herbs or spices as the pickled herring is highly seasoned and provides flavoring for the entire mixture. Pickled herring and anchovies are both very salty, so salt is added sparingly or not at all. The most commonly added seasonings are ground black pepper and allspice. Some recipes use beef stock in place of water.

Vorschmack is typically served as a hot dish, either as an appetizer or main dish. Other common uses are as a cold appetizer or as a spread for bread. It is available as a prepackaged product in Finland, and from specialty retailers in other countries.

As a hot dish vorschmack is often placed in the oven in the serving dish until it develops a light crust on top. It is typically served with potatoes and pickled beets. Sour cream is usually offered as a topping.

Sour cream is a popular topping for vorschmack.
Sour cream is a popular topping for vorschmack.

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